Online Counselor

"I talked to my online counselor today, and he/she said..." is becoming a more and more frequent experience for counseling clients.

I am a bit amazed, but not surprised actually.

There are some real advantages to the online experience, not the least of which is convenience and privacy, which means I do not need to walk into an office complex and wait in a public waiting area, nor do I need to dress up.

I would probably want to make sure the online privacy is protected, and as the article below explains, that I and my counselor have some provision set up for technical difficulties, should Mr. Gates decide to shut down the internet for awhile.

Your online counselor is not likely to charge as much either.

Lizanne Corbitt, who was and is one of my mentors in the counseling field, has been doing telephone counseling for years now, and my wife does telephone sessions also, but I have avoided that because I was afraid that I would not catch visual cues which are so important, I believe, to communication.

However, I am finding in my own learning about how our brains operate, that when I cannot see someone, then my hearing becomes more accute, and I can check out subtle changes of intonation, which are just as important to my session as the visual cues.

I am relieved to have that knowledge.

You can find the following article on a website called Ask The Internet Therapist which is one of the top three online counselor websites.

I see that this site has achieved NBCC approval for their continuing education, which speaks volumes to me about the validity of their continuing education materials.

The very first professional certification I had after graduate school was the NBCC certification and the test was rugged.

So let's see what the article has to say.

Patients, counselors connect for therapy sessions on the Web

Shanna Hogan, East Valley (Arizona) Tribune, 2007

When Penny Leisch sees her therapist, instead of lying on the couch she sits in front of her webcam. Her weekly therapy sessions are with a doctor based in Scottsdale — more than 1,000 miles away from her home in Austin, Texas.

"We do it online, with the videocam and, sometimes, on the phone," she says. "But I found that all those are just as good as being able to be in the office."

When she lived in Chandler, Leisch had face-to-face sessions with her therapist for about a year. When she moved, going online let her continue treatment with the same person instead of building a relationship with a new therapist.

"We had an established repertoire; we had built a basis of information and background before I moved," Leisch says. "It was a huge benefit, being able to continue with the same person and not have to start over with someone I don"t know."

Online counseling is one of the fastest-growing and most controversial trends in therapy. One of the largest sources in the field is based out of Scottsdale.

The doctor is in

Psychologist Jef Gazley had a successful practice in Scottsdale for more than 30 years when he launched his online business as a way to sell hypnotherapy tapes. It has evolved into one of the Web"s top three sources for patients to find therapists and conduct sessions using webcams, chat rooms, e-mail and the phone.

"It has grown quite a bit," Gazley says. "It"s cheaper, more convenient, and I think people are getting more comfortable with the technology."

A regular therapy session typically costs around $125, while online therapy ranges from $40 to $60.

The site gets around 40,000 new user hits per month, and the dozen therapists who offer their services on Gazley"s site see about 100 patients a month exclusively online.

Patients tend to be more open and forthcoming during online treatments, Gazley says. "It"s much easier to say things that might be embarrassing," he says.

But there are disadvantages. Therapists can miss nonverbal cues by not being able to see the patient"s body language, which can hamper perception. And e-therapy relies on computers, which are vulnerable to technological problems.

"I"ve had sessions where we"ve been on chat, and had that go down," Gazley says. "We"d have to e-mail each other our phone numbers and finished up the session by phone. You have to be a little bit flexible and play around with things."

Not for everyone

Although online therapy is growing, its legitimacy is still questioned by some industry professionals.

"It"s controversial," Gazley says. "It"s still a very new field. Although the first online therapists started around 1996, when you ask most people, they look at it as something new."

But it"s not for everyone, says Tempe therapist Audrey Jung, a board member for the International Society for Mental Health Online.

"Not everybody is able to express themselves in text," she says. "We can do face-to-face contact over the Internet using a webcam, but that, too, isn"t for everyone."

Additionally, online counseling typically focuses on problems like anxiety, depression and marital issues. Due to the distance, it is more difficult to handle emotional crises or serious psychological problems, Jung says.

But she says it can be effective, especially as a supplement to face-to-face sessions. And Jung predicts online therapy will continue to grow.

"I think it"s going to become way more accepted," she says. "In the "80s people were just getting used to answering machines and voice mail; the "90s and 2000s have produced people who use technology on a daily basis to communicate. So it"s just another extension of what they"re doing."

More Thoughts on Online Counseling

I think the article brings into focus a lot of the issues surrounding the practice of online counseling.

I love the idea of distance learning.

I am reminded of a video that I saw on youtube not too long ago, that said that 1 in 8 marriages today are between folks who met online.

Dating sites. That ratio of 1 in 8 is going to shrink as the Boomers move into Senior citizen status, because Gen X and Gen Y folks are wired and digital.

They do not even look at the yellow pages anymore, nor do they read newspapers.

For example, the Chicago Sun Times, a venerable Chicago newspaper is bankrupt, in a major market, and telephone companies are allowing us to opt in to Yellow Page directories.

You will not automatically get those any more folks, so it only makes sense that online counseling will be part of the future.

We may see online counselors offering fifteen minute sessions that happen while consumers are waiting at the bus stop for their kids to get home from school.

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